Open letter to the NRA

Dear NRA,

I am a former NRA member. I am a gun owner. I have grown up on households with guns. They were used for sport and for varmint removal. I was given my first gun when I was a young boy. I don’t own nor need an assault rifle or a handgun. They stay securely locked up in my house. I know literally see that they are locked up, every day. If I had reason to worry about the safety of someone in my house including my kids, I would not hesitate to give them to a family member to hold on to.

What I’m writing you about today is the writing on the wall. I don’t know if you have noticed but there is an entire generation of young people, mostly still in high school, who are opposed to your political stances. Within a couple years, those young people will be voters. And within the next ten years there will be more of them voting than NRA members.

Now I get that your power doesn’t come from voters. It comes from money you wield in campaigns. Money from gun manufacturers, gun industry, and high end financial donors. You actually don’t have much voting influence you just have financial control over candidates. But here is the rub. In ten years, that won’t matter anymore. In ten years, you will be hiding who you give money and support to otherwise they will be voted out of office by this young generation. You are on the cusp of fading.

Now, you don’t have to go quietly. You can literally hold onto your guns until they are pried from your cold dead hand. There is also another option. Rather than letting the government set up databases for tracking and deciding what laws to put in place, maybe you could step up and be a part of that? Maybe you could help be the future of a safer America with reasonable gun laws?

I realize that means back pedaling a bit. In corporate terms they call it a “pivot” now days. Some things I’m thinking you could do….

  • encourage good mental health habits among your members and their families
  • develop a system for reporting NRA members to resources if you have concerns about them
  • develop a system for a fellow NRA member to “hold” firearms of another member if there are concerns about that member
  • develop a system for reporting stolen or missing firearms
  • develop education programs that encourages people not to leave firearms, particularly handguns in unsecured locations (ex. glove box of unlocked cars)
  • develop a system for training and vetting people who want to purchase assault rifles that isn’t just “Bubba says he’s an okay guy”
  • be a partner with law enforcement in helping determine who should and shouldn’t have access to firearms
  • stop playing the victim
  • start playing the responsible citizen

These are just a few ideas. I’m sure there are other people with more. But your decision point is now. Do you want to pivot and be relevant in 20 years or do you want to got for Plan A the “cold dead fingers” option?

Sincerely,

Paul

 

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My problem with pronouns

There is a trend in certain liberal circles right now to put “your preferred pronouns” on your email, on your business cards, on your name tag at conferences, etc. I don’t do it. Yet, I live in fear of being challenged for not doing it, in part because I’m a cisgender hetero white male who  runs in multiple liberal circles. And I’m sure I get perceived as being a “cranky old white dude” not willing to give up power. But I actually have two other reasons that I don’t do it.

First: Privilege. Note that the only place you see this trend is among educated elite and like-minded groups of liberals. You don’t see the cashier at Taco Bell or the grocery store worker doing this. You don’t see this trend with school custodian or manufacturing workers. And if Taco Bell did allow this, could the staff get mad at customers and correct them when they didn’t use the right pronoun? I mean Starbucks can’t get some people’s names right but I have to get their pronouns right? The reality is that advertising how they want people to interpret their gender isn’t a luxury they have. I’m not claiming to be one of them. In fact, the opposite. As a privileged straight white male, I’m not going to use my power and privilege to further dictate to people what they call me. I feel like dictating what pronouns you use to describe me is like the professor who insists you call them doctor or professor. As if you need to constantly remind them of their special place in society. Telling people to refer to me as “he” is just saying “remind yourself of my privilege.” Even the military gets tired of using ranks with people you work with all the time. On this note, I’ve noticed that it is largely women and non-gender binary folks who participate in this trend which makes me wonder how many other white males feel this way.

Second: It doesn’t function in practice. At a conference, I had a speaker pass out pronoun stickers and tell everyone to put it on their name tag. Then during her session, two minutes later, she started repeatedly said “I can’t see your name tag from up here, so I’m going to assume you use _____” from the front of the room. Not only is this the case at conferences, but we also don’t walk around with our email signatures pasted to us every day. If you really want to be inclusive in your language, don’t modify it for each person – practice saying “they” and using people’s names all the time, not just at conferences and on email. I feel bad for non-gender binary folks who have a preferred pronoun but often find people using the other one. I just don’t think telling people what pronouns you prefer is the answer to changing several thousand years of language programming. Encouraging society to adopt a single non-gender specific pronoun for every single person seems the better linguistic and practical route.

Welcome to the Party! [No moderates allowed.]

Just a short note to compare two different stories.

In Vincennes, Indiana, Major General Rick Stevens (Army, retired) tried to register as a Democratic candidate for a state legislature position. The Chair of the Knox County Democratic Party won’t approve his application. While he was in the military Stevens identified as Independent. Since he didn’t vote in the last election (he was on an assignment in Washington DC), supports the military, the second amendment,and is a moderate on immigration the chair isn’t convinced he is really a Democrat. There is apparently a strong stance against moderate Democrats in Knox County. Only far-far left are allowed. For more, check out: Potential candidate, party chair at odds over application

Meanwhile, the Republicans in a “here, hold my beer” sort of way have said “We’ll take it to the other extreme and let anyone be a Republican!”

Arthur J. Jones will be running for a seat in the Illinois legislature. The Chicago area Republican party apparently has no concerns about his Republican-ness. Jones has been involved in anti-Semitic and racial issues for years. He’s marched in full Nazi uniform, billed himself as “the White People’s candidate” and called the Holocaust, “the biggest, blackest lie in history.” He is also against interracial marriage and school integration. At this point, he is the only Republican on the ticket, which recognizes the Republican’s commitment to only far-far right candidates and certainly no moderate Republicans. For more check out: Holocaust denier likely to appear on ballot for GOP for Chicago-area congressional seatl

In a world without moderates, we only get what we have now…….a dysfunctional congress subject to temper tantrums and publicity and leaders who are more concerned with grandstanding and being on the news than actually doing their job.

 

The Dead Babies Problem and My Path Towards Unitarian Universalism

I don’t remember how old I was when I developed the dead babies problem. I think it was in early high school but it may have been middle school. The dead babies problem goes something like this:

Person 1: If you don’t accept Jesus and get baptized, you will go to Hell.

Me: What if you weren’t here to tell me that? What if I never got that word?

Person 1: That’s why Christians have to tell everyone. That’s why we proselytize and evangelize.

Me: What if I never met a Christian? What if I lived in some country where there were no Christians?

Person 1: Well, that’s a pretty evil place and you need to get out of there.

Me: What if I’m just a small child or a baby? Dying in some poor rural area of some 3rd world country with no Christians in it? I’m going to Hell.

Person 1: Um…..

Me: That’s doesn’t really sound like this “all powerful” and ” universally loving” God/Jesus person you keep telling me about.

And thus was born the dead babies problem as my teenage mind construed it. I’ve since had umpteen Christian recruiters, ministers, and preachers quote Bible versus and spin logic loops at me to try and explain this. But in the end, all semi-tehologically-conservative Christians/Muslims/Jews/Mormons/Buddhists, etc. think that my everlasting salvation/blessing/well-being hinges on the chances of my being contacted by one of their people and having the freedom and capacity to take them up on their offer to join them.

Eventually this led to my realization that whatever happens to people, whatever God/god/gods/goddesses there are that make whatever rules for divine favor…..they must be universal if they are to truly be all powerful and be “the” right one. In other words, all the same rules have to apply to all the people without chance being involved. So this means one or more of the following are true:

  1. No religion claiming to have the “chosen” membership is right.
  2. All religions are right to some degree (i.e. religions of the world are all instruments in the same orchestra).
  3. Something universal (religious or not) happens when you die regardless of who you are or where you are.

I have chosen option 3 for the most part. The rules must be universal and can’t hinge on knowing or not knowing. Hence the importance of ethical practices like “doing the most good for the most people” are important to me. And whatever divine power exists – God, Goddess, Science, etc there must be only one. You can’t have an “all powerful” who plays favorites, that makes the All Powerful sound petty and less powerful. So the divine must also be unknowable (put not un-observable per se) and singular even if that all powerful is just the Laws of Physics. So theologically, I was an agnostic Unitarian Universalist before I ever even heard those words.

How you feel about free speech probably depends on what you think is free speech.

Once again I find myself observing arguments about who has a right to say what and where and how. Who has a right to show what pictures, wear what t-shirts, and hold up what signs.

Most people who argue “what they are doing is NOT free speech!” are motivated primarily by the fact that they disagree with what is being said. Sometimes they take it a step further and label it “hate speech.” Which sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t. But as Americans we cannot agree on what is hate speech or what is free speech.

Is free speech the right to share your ideas? Yes, if it is standing on a street corner with a sign? Yes, if it is standing on a street corner screaming at the person with the sign?

Is free speech the right to inconvenience others? Yes, if they have to walk around you standing on a street corner with your sign? Yes, if they have to drive around you standing in the street with your sign?

Is free speech the right to share your ideas? Yes, if you have a crowd of people who has paid to hear them? Yes if one person in that crowd interrupts your speech with their own?

Is free speech the right to call for the removal of political figures? Yes, if you say they need to be voted out of office? Yes if you say they need to be run out of your community?

Is free speech the right to call people names? Yes, if that person is a political figure? Yes, if that person is walking into a church or planned parenthood clinic? Yes, so long as you believe it is true? Yes, if those names are derogatory cultural, racial, or ethnic terms?

Is it free speech to wear a t-shirt claiming your views? It is free speech to be told you aren’t allowed somewhere because of your t-shirt?

Is it hate speech to stand on a college campus and call women wearing shorts “sluts”? Is it hate speech to stand on a college campus and call men wearing shorts “sluts”?

Is it hate speech to say that your cultural or ethnic identity has some element worth preserving and honoring? Is it hate speech if others don’t believe you have a “real” cultural or ethnic identity?

Is it hate speech to stand on a street corner with a sign that reads “You are an idiot”? Is it hate speech to yell “you are an idiot” at people walking past? Is it hate speech to stand up in an auditorium and yell at a speaker “you are an idiot”? Is it hate speech to run up to the speaker, jump on stage, a yell in their face “YOU ARE AN IDIOT”?

All too often, we want to believe in free speech as a stand alone idea. And many well intended individuals will argue about it as if it is an independent concept. There is always context involved. Free speech is complicated. And when we hear in the news that someone’s “free speech” was violated, it is often a headline without context. Often shared and promoted by those who share the ideology of the person claiming to be the victim of injustice to provoke a knee jerk reaction.

Don’t be a knee jerker. Get the whole context.
P.S. I couldn’t find a way to work this in but it also reminds me of this joke. A Scotsman comes to the U.S. for college. His mom calls and asks how he is doing with the Americans, especially in the dorms. He says “My neighbor on the right bangs on the wall all night and the one on the left screams all night.” The mom immediately says “that’s awful, how do you deal with it?” He says “I just keep playing my bagpipes and ignoring them.”

 

 

Why statues matter

Statues are not history. Rarely is a statue erected at the moment that something historic happens. (For instance, the first statues of George Washington were over 40 years after his death.) This is because we need time and distance to see what is historic. And also because statues are not history. Statues are looking back through history, through the lens of our moment, and cherry-picking someone we think exemplifies something worth looking up to – literally. Statues are public civics lessons.

So statues matter less because of who they are and more because of why they were made. One of my favorite statues is one you have probably never seen and it is someone you probably don’t know. In the Indiana State House, there is a statue of Colonel Richard Owen. He was a geologist and university professor who served in the Mexican American War and the Union Army in the Civil War. The statue though….was commission in 1913, by Confederates who had been in a prison camp run by Owen. No, those are not typos. Owen set up standards for how to run a prisoner of war camp. (Standards that later became norms in something called the Geneva Convention.) Those norms included allowing the prisoners to maintain their rank structure and chain of command in the camp. Ensuring prisoners had enough to eat. Allowing them to write home and read books. In fact, this became well known during the Civil War because of the deplorable condition of most prison camps. So well known, that when Owen was later leading a regiment in the war and was captured, the Confederate General thanked him and released Owen and his regiment to return home “on parole.”

The Confederate veterans continued to recognize how special Owen as they heard horror stories about other camps. In 1913, they commissioned and paid for the statue. It was then given to the state of Indiana. It is the only statue of a Union soldier directly commissioned by Confederate veterans. And they did it for his “courtesy and kindness.” That is why it matters. That is the lesson they wanted taught.

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Are there other reasons to honor Owen? Sure. He was the first President of Purdue University. He was a very influential geologist. He was an abolitionist. He and his family were major leaders in Indiana history throughout the 1800s. But that isn’t why they did it. Read the plaque. READ. THE. PLAQUE. Even the Owen bust is cherry-picked history. The Confederates were not commissioning a memorial to an abolitionist. I wonder if they even knew that? If they had, would they have done it?

Which leads us to today’s topic. Statues of Confederate leaders. Why do we have them? It’s not like they were put up during the war. As mentioned before, statues come later. They weren’t even erected right after the war in most cases. Most of the contentious ones today were erected in the 1920s and 1930s. The height of segregation, lynching, voter suppression, and Jim Crow era power. Erected by white governments and white-controlled communities intent on cementing a sense of white power. Statues are also symbols of power. That’s why we make them larger than life.

So people were told, look up at these great powerful leaders! Look up at these cherry-picked historical moments! Look at our attempt to preserve slavery! And a solid reminder to African Americans as to where they belonged in the community (or didn’t belong as the case may be) and that “the South will rise again.” A reminder that African Americans were once owned by white people who would die to defend their right to own them. It’s not like the Southerners were erecting statues to Abraham Lincoln. Or statues of General Lee reading to children. They were being intentional about who they wanted people to look up to and how they wanted them to be seen.

And when a community decides that it no longer wants to look up at a statue and see that civics lesson, they can and should take it down. Putting a new plaque on it to change the meaning doesn’t work when you have spent decades using it as a tool to teach another lesson. Remember all those scenes of people tearing down Saddam Hussein statues in Iraq? Remember how we all laughed and cheered? They didn’t want that lesson anymore.

I’d love to see a park created for old statues. I’d love to see just row after row of statues and monuments in a park on the outskirts of town. One that we could take kids to and ask questions like – why is this here now? How has our culture changed over time? How has our community values changed? That would make for some excellent civics lessons.

Taking down statues doesn’t change history. Taking down statues says these are no longer the people from history who we want to look up to. These are no longer the people who we put on a pedestal. These are no longer the people we want our children to grow up to emulate. Statues are civics lessons, not history lessons. History will still be there in the books. We can still read about those people. We can even learn about why we took the statue down or moved to someplace else. Yes, we could also surround it with “opposing statues” but is putting Abraham Lincoln or Frederick Douglas next to a bunch of Confederate Generals really the same? (Or the first black professional tennis player….looking at you there Richmond). Unless we put Ulysses S. Grant on a horse headed directly at General Lee we are still teaching civics not history (and that wouldn’t be a very accurate history lesson anyway.)

 

The White House: America’s new reality tv show

Regardless of how you feel about Donald Trump, I will give him credit for consistently doing one thing that he is really good at doing. He grabs headlines. And he’s managed to be a top story (if not THE top story) in every major news outlet around the country since he took office. And even many other countries.

The White House has become America’s new favorite reality tv show.

You’re fired!

And you’re fired!

I didn’t do that.

Well maybe I did but it didn’t mean anything.

Maybe I said it did at the time.

You only know because someone leaked it! We have leaks!

Ok, maybe I said it!

But you weren’t supposed to write about it!

Look at Crooked Hillary!

Remember how bad Obama was!

You’re fired!

I don’t know if that makes America “great again” or not but we do seem to have become the leading source of the world’s entertainment.

I would love it if someone could go back and compare Trump’s first six-months in office with Obama’s and see who made more front page news. Who signed more executive orders. Even who tweeted more. (Sorry, I love data.)

There are still so many unfilled positions in the government but Trump can’t seem to fill them since he spends all his time shuffling his main staff around.

I’m willing to bet that if you worked for Trump and had that much turn over and lack of productivity on your staff (remember all those promises he hasn’t filled yet…….) he would have fired himself long ago.

Hands down, my favorite moment in this reality show was last week when he said he said he had consulted with “my Generals and military experts” on transgender troops.* Apparently “his” Generals and experts are not the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs…..you know….our Generals and military experts. Like most things, Trump has his own apparently.Our Generals and military experts seemed blindsided by it. I can only imagine the reaction Mattis had to this.

But Trump seems consistently pleased with himself. No matter what 24 hours news station he turns to, he is the top headline. And anytime he isn’t, he just takes to twitter and jumps right back up there.

We are only half way through Season 1. Three more seasons to go.

*Even the relatively conservative RAND corporation has said the the benefits of allowing people who are transgender to serve out weighs any additional accommodation issues. Oh, and you know, it’s the right fucking thing to do.